Why Sports and Mental Health go hand-in-hand

Mental health awareness has been a hot button point of conversation in recent years, and rightfully so. For far too long, keeping one’s internal struggles inside was looked upon as the norm, especially for men involved in any type of sport. However, in recent years there has been a large shift in the public perception in the importance of taking care of one’s mental well being. While there is absolutely work to be done in terms of completely shedding the negative stigma surrounding prioritizing mental health, the work of certain professional athletes has gone a long way in helping people understand the seriousness of this topic that has effected countless people across the globe, including myself.

One of the hardest aspects of struggling with mental illness growing up was the isolating feeling of loneliness that came with each day of struggle. There were many helpless days where I felt like I was suffering for no reason, and that I was truly alone in my thought process and emotional state. While I felt the need to suffer in silence, a number of professional athletes courageously shared their stories, which in turn made folks like myself feel more at ease in the fact that we were not as alone as we once thought.

Being located in Cleveland, Ohio, Kevin Love is the first name that comes to mind when we talk about athletes who have made a difference in the world of mental health. Love’s 2018 Player’s Tribune article titled, “Everyone is Going Through Something” shed light on the panic attacks he suffered while playing professional basketball for the Cavaliers. Not only was Love forthcoming with his experiences, but he assured folks that were struggling with life that they were not alone. This act by a professional athlete that I cheered for feverishly and admired was something that personally touched me at the time, as I was struggling to finish my bachelors degree due to consistent panic attacks of my own. The outcry of support Love received on his article was unlike anything I had ever seen before in the world of professional sports. While the Cavaliers were in the midst of attempting to win another NBA championship, Love completely changed the narrative. Wins and losses did not seem as important as they once did as the basic human emotion of empathy began to finally show itself in a world where we could use as much of it as possible.

Kevin Love is not the only athlete who’s courage became a personal inspiration. I have been a fan of professional wrestling since I was in my formative years, and will have the debate with anyone, anytime, anywhere, that it is indeed a sport. As was the case with other professional sports, mental health in wrestling have never really gone hand in hand. However, there is an example of a recent major star in pro wrestling taking time off during a main event run to address one of the only things in life that matters-their mental well being.

Jon Moxley personifies toughness not only inside the squared circle, but outside of it as well. His matches are considered some of the hardest hitting in the business as he has mastered many different styles of in ring work. However, Moxley showed what true toughness looks like when he stepped away from All Elite Wrestling for a number of months, to address matters in his personal life. With a new child added to the family just months prior, Moxley needed to step away from the business for an indefinite amount of time in order to give his child the best possible life. That selflessness is what makes a true man.

When Moxley made his return to All Elite Wrestling this past January, he gave a speech to the fans in attendance regarding a dream he had while on the road. The dream contained a black cloud that was mocking him for thinking he had overcome the demons of his past. The “promo”, (what we call it in wrestling terms) made me want to run through a brick wall when I was watching live as Moxley proclaimed, “I don’t run from demons, I just beat the sh*t out of them!”

Jon Moxley made his return to All Elite Wrestling on January 19, 2022

Moxley’s words not only made me not feel alone, but they gave me a sense of inspiration as I continue on my own mental health journey. Over the years, sports like basketball, football, baseball, and professional wrestling have provided me with the ultimate escape from my personal demons I have been fending off for years. Being able to immerse myself in these various universes has been both therapeutic and rewarding as it has provided me with not only entertainment, but a sense of personal direction. Athletes like Kevin Love, Jon Moxley, Naomi Oksaka, Demar Derozan, and countless others have become personal heroes of mine. They will be remembered for not only their contributions to their craft, but their courage and inspiration they provided to folks like myself.

In closing, the main takeaway from this should be sports not only provide an escape for people dealing with mental health struggles, but they can be a source of inspiration as well. While everyone’s personal journey is unique, coming together under the common umbrella of striving for mental health can make us stronger as a society. Thank you to every athlete for sharing their stories, thus humanizing themselves and leaving them as vulnerable as I feel when I try and overcome my personal obstacles. As the modern world only becomes more divided, the necessity to unite towards mental health becomes extremely imperative.

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